Seeing the Northern Lights is the dream of many people but it is not always easy, especially at the beginning when you are not sure how to deal with it. In this blog I have already explained to you several times how to look for the northern lights, if you could see them in town and especially in Norway, but for a whole host of reasons you may prefer to go through a tour. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes you can do without it. But above all, you have to choose it well so that the experience, which must be magical, does not turn sour. It’s rare, but it happens. So the objective of this article is not to push you to go through a tour or on the contrary to prevent you from doing so, but rather to guide you whether or not you need one and especially how to choose it, according to some essential criteria. Let’s go !
Why to book a tour to see the northern lights in Tromso ?
To tell you the truth, during my first two stays in Tromso I went through a tour to see the northern lights. The first evening was to find out how to do it, how it worked and gain a little confidence, as I was afraid of driving in the snow, I didn’t know where to go, how to find the lights.
But in front of the multitude of tours and guides, I asked myself a lot of questions. As my objective was to see the auroras but also to learn how to photograph them, I left the classic agencies to go through photographers who offered tours. And, well, it wasn’t bad. Moreover, since the time that I go there, I meet guides on the spot, some have become friends, so I learned to differentiate the “good guide” from the “bad guide”.
So, here are below some reasons to book a tour, and once again, this is not something mandatory 🙂 This is a way to increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights.
Because you don’t drive
The Northern Lights are much better visible away from city lights, villages, streetlights in particular. And moreover, depending on the weather, you have to be mobile. However, if you do not have a driving license or if, like me the first time, you are a little afraid to drive on snow and ice, the tours meet this need and it is still really useful.
You can see the northern lights without moving outside Tromso, but unless you are in an isolated hut it is rare that you are in the best conditions in terms of light. You can check Telegrafbukta if you don’t move from Tromso city center, a place without too much light.
Because you don’t know where to go
That’s the main reason I took a guide the first time, I didn’t know where to go, how to search. Fortunately, since then I have improved. The tour guides know the right places and know how to study the weather. But yes, I confirm that at the beginning we are lost, we put pressure on ourselves if we do not see them, we want to optimize our chances. So to learn how to do it, I find it useful.
In this (super long) article I explain the basics of auroras and how to find them.
To optimize the chances of seeing them
The guides know where to go, study the weather and the wind to find out where the clear skies are. When the weather is ugly over a fjord, that doesn’t mean it’s ugly everywhere in the region. You have to be able to be mobile, change places and above all know where to go. It is thus necessary to study the weather, the direction of the wind, to anticipate where the clouds are going. And the guides all know each other in a region, they give each other advice, have a whatsapp group in common. It’s not a competition, and that’s pretty cool.
That is acquired with experience. When you become addicted to the dawn, you will know how to use the different applications and anticipate just by looking at the sky.
For the weather, the Yr.no app and website are not bad for getting an overview. But I especially recommend Ventusky, which gives very precise cloud cover hour by hour. Beyond the weather at the instant, look at what is happening, how it will move and in which direction.
To be with a guide
The big advantage of going through a tour or a guide is… that you are with a guide. Meaning that we don’t have much to do, we don’t have to drive for hours (really, to find a patch of clear sky, we can drive 3 hours to Finland for example) and general the guide takes care of us very well. He’ll make a fire, has coffee/tea, snacks and often has plenty of stories to tell. While waiting for the northern lights, which can take a little time, we are with the group, with the guide, it passes the time in an interesting way.
To learn how to photograph the northern lights
That is important too, but it will not interest everyone. Depending on the agency you choose, you may have photographers with you who will teach you the basics of Northern Lights photography. This is the criterion on which I chose my two guides a few years ago, as I wanted to have great memories.
The best I’ve found on this topic are Wandering Owl in Tromso. They have some very good photographers and will seek to find slightly different corners.
At Northern Horizon they also have good photographers for example.
If you want to dive deep into northern lights photography, you can check this article
The disadvantages of going through a tour
Clearly, I’m not going to lie, there are some disadvantages :
- We are not in control of our schedule, if the guide says we are going back, then we are going back (around midnight / 1 a.m.)
- We are with people, so it depends a lot on the feeling of the group. If there are 2-3 loud persons, it can get annoying, but it’s really rare
- It has a certain cost. At least 120€ per person. It lasts 6/8 hours but it’s not cheap
- There may be a bad surprise with the tour, a guide who is not having a good day, who does not go far and not in a nice place. This is rare, but it can happen so this is why you will have to choose your tour carefully
- Falling on a too large group.
But what is certain is that not seeing the aurora borealis will not be the fault of the tour. Indeed, as all the tours and all the guides have the same information, if there is no dawn, there is none for anyone. And with very few exceptions, they will all do their best to find a patch of clear sky. But if the sky is clear and the auroras are not there, well they are not there.
How to chose your northern lights tour in Tromso
Here are some criteria you should pay attention when you chose your tour, and then avoid unpleasant surprises
I do not recommend being too stingy about the price. In general, good tours in Tromso are priced between 120 and 190€, if it’s less, it’s because there’s a trap. Either there are too big groups, or they don’t go too far or the service is degraded, no real guide, no drink, just an average driver and that’s it. So don’t pull the price down too much.
Here are a few examples of good companies and their prices :
I have always chosen small groups (between 3 and 8) and I have also seen big bus arrive. It’s cheaper, but the coaches are a bit of hell. The northern lights, I want to enjoy them, not to have noise everywhere. It’s a moment apart, of calm and zenitude so when it’s loud, it’s complicated, and my experience is clearly degraded. Afterwards, it is suitable for some tourists, especially those on small budgets, but you will not take full advantage of it. Up to 12 is fine, 6/8 is really good.
If you want to look at what it looks like for the bigger and cheaper groups, you can see here, under 100€.
It may be silly, but big northern lights companies do not necessarily provide the same quality of service. I prefer small companies because it’s more personal, less factory-like and generally the groups are smaller. Also, I have the feeling they try more. When I asked locals I knew which tours to avoid, only large companies came out. I’m not saying that all tours of all big companies are not good, but I advise to favor smaller tours.
It’s super important, look at the opinions on the tours, the companies. On my side, I prefer to go through resellers such as Getyourguide, Viator, which display the name of the tour, because they publish the reviews. Sort the reviews in chronological order, otherwise it can be biased, it is often the best reviews first. The overall rating is important but especially the latest reviews.
If there are photographers among the guides
When a tour says they have photographers, don’t hesitate to go check it out, see what they do for photos, if they are real photographers or not. This is an important criterion for me because a photographer will have an eye for finding the right places, the most photogenic, because he also goes there for himself. In addition they give advice for photographing the northern lights, which is not a luxury.
How is an evening with a guide
Frankly, it’s super simple.
- the guide has prepared his route in advance according to the weather, knowing in which direction to go
- in general we have an appointment at a specific place between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Tromso it is in front of the Radisson for example
- there is at least a 30-minute drive to first be sure to get away from the light pollution and then find a nice spot, without too many people. But it can take up to 3 hours by road depending on the weather.
- the guide can make a bonfire, which is quite practical because standing still in winter, it’s not that easy !
- you will also have snacks, hot drinks, that’s cool
- if the weather is not great, then you will move until you find a place with better weather
- do not hesitate to ask the guide for advice on taking photos
- keep your nose up
- and in general we pack up around 1am, after the big northern lights which has just ended, the ideal is to be back between 1am and 2am. But if you left further (eg Kilpisjarvi 3 hours from Tromso), inevitably it will be later.
In general, there is a refund only if the tour is canceled before departure. If the tour is still scheduled and the weather is not good or there is no Northern Lights, then there is no refund. On the other hand, they spin discounts to go back with them.
What you should not forget before going out
Here is your checklist before going to see the Northern Lights:
- do not forget to have charged the batteries of your camera (because the cold drains them much faster)
- and to have made room on the memory card
- to take the tripod, essential for long exposures
- take water and something to eat, you never know
- charge your phone battery
- take a headlamp
- take some other layers of clothing, socks, gloves, hat, so as not to freeze in place and to be able to add/remove quickly
Which tours should you chose in Tromso ?
In Tromso, there are a lot of tours. Well ok, that’s the capital city of northern lights. Some of them are really serious, with really good guides, photographers, will do their best to find clear sky and bring you in nice spots.
These ones are very good ones, this is why I recommend them. It doesn’t mean the other ones are not good. I don’t know all of them, I know some. Good ones, bad ones.
But my FIRST advice would be to check the reviews from customers on the platforms. This is really important.
So, I strongly recommend these 4 tours:
Here it is ! I think you know everything 🙂 Not everybody needs to book a tour to see the northern lights. But if you want to, if you want to optimize your chances, if you first need all the information to chase them by yourself after, yes you can go. If you don’t know how to start, where to go, then book it. That’s not cheap, but by chosing a GOOD tour, you won’t be disappointed 🙂
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